April 16, 2014
By JC Sevcik
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,”
“Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” analyzed extensive data, comparing nearly 1,800 U.S. policies enacted between 1981 and 2002 with the expressed preferences of average and affluent Americans as well as special interest groups.
The resulting data empirically verifies that U.S. policies are determined by the economic elite.
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” says the peer-reviewed study.
The 42-page study analyzes U.S. politics through the framework of four major theoretical traditions — Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased Pluralism — concluding that U.S. political policies rarely align with the majority of citizens.
What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute
troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond
primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our
findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually
determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or
with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias
built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy
change, they generally do not get it.
The report consoles that “Americans do enjoy many features
central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association” but goes on to warn that “we believe that if policymaking is dominated
by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s
claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”